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  • Writer's pictureWigan Hearing

Common FAQs about ear wax

What causes ear wax?

Glands all over the human body secrete ‘sebum oil‘, including the glands in the ear. Sebum oil helps keep our skin and hair moisturised.

The glands in the ear canal also secrete ‘cerumen oil‘ which has bacteriostatic properties and helps to protect the ear from infections.

These oils can build up into small lumps forming what we refer to as ‘ear wax‘. Ear wax generally falls out in small particles and we do not notice this happening. But for many people it builds into bigger lumps and causes a nuisance blockage.

Ear-wax in Europeans and Africans is generally light-brown to mid-brown and soft. Eastern Asians generally have lighter coloured fluffy dry ear-wax (this is caused by a genetic mutation and is known as ‘oriental ear wax‘).

Ear wax that has been in the ear a long time can solidify and become compacted and is dark brown.

Some lucky people do not generate much ear wax at all, if any, and never require ear wax removal – lucky them!

Why do I got so much ear wax?

Some people do create a lot more wax than other people. Some people create hardly any ear wax and will never require ear wax removal.

Excessive ear wax production may be a genetic trait; but it could also may be down to diet or environmental factors (i.e. allergies or dusty work conditions). It is unconfirmed as to whether excessive noise also contributes towards excessive ear wax production.

Just as some people suffer from hay-fever more than others, many people suffer from aggravating ear-wax build up more than others.

We recommend anyone who is suffering from excessive ear wax production to consider having an allergy test / consultation to see if there is a possible cause that can be worked on.

Why do my ears block up with wax?

Our ears have developed a natural cleansing process called ‘epithelial migration‘.

Epithelial = skin lining

Our skin cells migrate out of our ears from the centre of the ear drum in a spiral shape, twisting around the whole ear canal, until eventually the dead skin cells drop out of our ears.

This natural process is designed to clear our ears of dead skin cells.

Unfortunately it doesn’t work in all of us, and the skin cells combine with the oily residue that forms into wax lumps and it congeals into a mass that fails to drop out.

This can be worse for people who have hairy ear canals, small ear canals, or dry flaky skin.

How do you remove ear wax?

We use micro suction, irrigation and manual extraction

A microsuction pump acts like a mini-hoover and consists of a small suction pump unit which has a length of tubing (about 1m long) with a suction probe inserted into the end. We place a funnel shaped specula into the patients ear and carefully suction the wax out. It is imperative the clinician has good visibility and wears effective loupes with headlight.

This is particularly efficient for firm ear-wax.

What is ‘Irrigation?’

Irrigation is also commonly called ear syringing, but technically it is not.

For irrigation we use a ‘earigator‘ irrigation unit as they offer good reliability and performance.

These devices exert a a pulsing spray of water into the ear to flush out softer wax.

The water should be warm, as cold water can cause dizziness.

Irrigation is perfectly safe if the clinician appropriately controls the water flow pressure and angle of spray. It is advisable to undertake irrigation with clinician loupes to get a better view.

Irrigation is best for soft ear-wax.

Dry tool ear wax removal

We have a selection of additional tools for hard stubborn ear wax including mini-forceps and specially designed ear probes.

Often ear wax can bind to the shedding skin of the ear and can tangle with hairs making it very difficult to remove with irrigation and micro-suction – often we have to use all three methods in one ear with such ear wax.

These tools can be essential for removing very hard compacted ear-wax.

Sometimes it may be necessary to use all of the above methods to extract ear wax from one person.

Can I prevent ear wax?

Ear-wax contains anti-bacterial properties and is good for protecting the lining of our ear canals – as such we should not try to prevent ear wax.

However, ear-wax build-up is obviously not good for anyone and we understand the desire to prevent this.

If you have persistent ear-wax problems we would suggest having an allergy test to see if you are reacting to anything – food or environmental.

How often should I have wax removed?

Some people may require their ears to be cleared every 2-3 months as their wax causes constant problems.

For many it is a yearly procedure just before their holidays (as we have heard of many a ruined holiday from ear wax blockages!); for some it is 2-3 years, or once in a lifetime, and some will never need ear wax removal.

Are you registered for ear wax removal?

This may be surprising but there is no registration body for private ear-wax removal services – it is an unregulated procedure.

Registered Hearing Aid Dispensers (RHAD’s) have to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and can undertake ear wax removal (with appropriate training for their insurance purpose), but the HCPC does not cover ‘ear wax removal’ in their scope of work for RHAD’s.

If you undertake ear wax removal services you must have treatment liability insurance – and the insurance company state you must be able to clearly demonstrate competence. For this you first must have appropriate training.

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